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The OAS Needs New Leadership

Luis Almagro, the current Secretary General of the Organization of American States (OAS) has abused his position and authority more flagrantly and outrageously than any predecessor in recent years. In his lack of judgment and disregard for political and diplomatic norms he resembles Donald Trump. And like Trump, he is increasingly seen as an embarrassment within the organization for which he is the standard bearer.

The OAS has been manipulated by Washington many times over the years in the service of regime change. Twenty-first century examples include Haiti (2000-2004, and 2011), Honduras (2009), and Paraguay (2012). It was in response to Washington’s manipulation of the OAS, in the process of consolidating the 2009 military coup in Honduras, that the Community of Latin American and Caribbean States (CELAC) was formed. It includes all countries in the hemisphere except the United States and Canada.

But in these other cases, Washington had to pretend it was doing something other than carrying out a political campaign against a sovereign government. Almagro is much more brazen. Like the communists of Karl Marx’s time, he “disdains to conceal his views.” He is a radical and seeks to win his goals by any means necessary.

His main goal at present is to get rid of the current government of Venezuela. In the run-up to the congressional elections there last December, he worked tirelessly to try and convince the media and the world that the government was going to rig the elections. When the vote count was universally acknowledged as clean, he made no apologies but simply switched tactics.

Almagro’s latest offensive involves invoking the OAS Democratic Charter, which allows the organization to intervene when there is an “unconstitutional alteration of the constitutional regime that seriously impairs the democratic order in a member state.” Never mind that Venezuela still has an elected president, unlike Brazil, where a cabal of corrupt politicians has manipulated the legislative and judicial branches of government to suspend the head of state in a desperate effort to protect themselves from investigations for corruption. Almagro’s offensive is about politics, not democracy. It’s about what Washington and its right-wing allies want for the region.

Exhibiting a profound lack of respect for the political norms of Latin America, Almagro posted an article by Washington Post editorialist Jackson Diehl on the OAS website. The article praised Almagro for “revitalizing the OAS” with his crusade against a member state. It is no more appropriate for the head of the OAS to campaign against a member country than it would be for the head of the European Commission to do so in Europe.

In Latin America there is a deep historical tradition that values national sovereignty and self-determination, however incomprehensible and arrogantly dismissed those concepts may be in Washington. Diehl is a hard core neoconservative, an American supremacist who uses the editorial pages of the Washington Post to trash almost all of the left governments of the region, and to support military intervention anywhere that it might vaguely serve “American interests.” He was one of the most prominent and vocal supporters of the 2003 invasion of Iraq, with the Post running 27 editorial board pieces supporting the war in the six months prior to the invasion.

Basking in the praise of someone like Jackson Diehl, for any literate Latin American, is the equivalent of Trump’s infamous tweet quoting Mussolini.

There are immediate and risky consequences of Almagro’s malfeasance and abuse of power. Venezuela is confronting an economic and political crisis and the country is politically divided. The political opposition in Venezuela is also divided; as throughout its 21st century history, some want to advocate peaceful and electoral change, while others want to overthrow the government. A normal leader of the OAS would do what the Union of South American Nations (UNASUR) is doing — try to promote dialogue between the two opposing forces. Since the main opposition group (MUD) and other opposition leaders refuse to meet with the government, UNASUR has enlisted José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero (former prime minister of Spain), Martín Torrijos (former president of Panama), and Leonel Fernández (former president of the Dominican Republic) to meet with both sides in order to facilitate dialogue.

But Almagro is not interested in promoting dialogue; he is more interested in using the OAS, and its reach in the media, to delegitimize the Venezuelan government, a goal that Washington has pursued for most of the past 15 years.

Impatience with Almagro within the OAS is mounting. Many governments have publicly criticized him, and several have called for his resignation. He had previously been denounced by former president Pepe Mujica of Uruguay, whom he had served as foreign minister.

Most importantly, in June, 19 countries (a majority of the OAS membership) ordered that the Permanent Council of the OAS discuss his behavior. This is long overdue, and hopefully will lead to a change of leadership.

This column originally appeared on Huffington Post.

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Mark Weisbrot is co-director of the Center for Economic and Policy Research, in Washington, D.C. and president of Just Foreign Policy. He is also the author of  Failed: What the “Experts” Got Wrong About the Global Economy (Oxford University Press, 2015).

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